I think – for a lot of people – this week has been a tough one. The “novelty” of being at home, and working in a different way has worn off, and as we settle down to what increasingly looks like a longer-term activity, the ‘new normal’ starts to generate its’ own particular challenges and foibles.
What’s gone well?
I am starting to plan more specifically for remote learning now – thinking about what we can do differently, rather than trying to replicate my classroom environment and old way of teaching. For example, this week’s lessons have included – specifically – blocks of “group work”, where I’ve created a separate chat channel, for students to collaborate and work across a file. Being able to share, type and comment/work together has been positive for them – but also feels a little bit positive for me, too.
Following last week’s reflections on losing my voice, I’ve been deliberately thinking about “things to do”, rather than “things for me to say”, and I think that’s helped. Certainly, my voice is in better shape this week – despite teaching 21 online sessions over the course of the week.
I have started to consider and plan and extend my work in booklet/worksheet form, for KS4. This is a significant departure from what I thought I’d be doing, but based on my KS5 experience, it’s helping hugely to have a sense of ‘what’s in front of them’ and what we’re doing to go through the work. I can’t see them in the same way, but at least I know what they can see…
I have been able to do some “non teaching” things, and that’s been lovely – UCAS seminar, chatting through some components of decision making. It’s odd not having a form at the moment (UCAS coordinator role!), but that has been positive and helpful.
Some of our classes are ‘enrichment focused’ – the aim is to get support for Year 11 and Year 13, rather than teaching course-specific content. These have been some of my favourite lessons – a chance to love my subject and discuss a range of weird and wacky ideas. This week – where am I a local – debating the decline of the nation-state, and the rise of anti-globalisation… an unexpected intellectual challenge and joy!
What’s been hard?
I’ve been exhausted this week – really struggling with the separation of “work” and “home” lives, and I can see why people who work from home regularly – and have the means to do so – aspire to a location shift: a home office that is physically separate from the house. I happen to have one of those brains where motivation is linked to productivity (success = motivation for me), and if I’m feeling listless, then the number of “jobs” I need to do exponentially increases. It’s hard to separate “work” jobs and “home” jobs at the moment – even weird stuff like ‘sorting out the collection of photographs on my phone’ has become apparently important and critical, and gone on a mental to do list. I’ve done long hours, and not felt productive or positive.
I think there are two underlying components – the first is just volume of work right now. We have one of our team off work, for example, and “cover” takes on a completely different dimension in this brave new world of ours.
But perhaps the more significant cause is the lack of “feedback” loop. Teaching is, amongst many other things, quite a performative exercise. You have a good lesson – you get a positive feedback, someone “gets it”, you see some great work, you see excellent outcomes – these things energise you and you’re lifted.
While the converse can also be true – bad lessons can sucker punch your energy levels unexpectedly – I’m at a stage in my teaching career where they are fewer and further between, and the reality is that a five period day is tiring, yes, but gently exhilarating too. There’s adrenaline, endorphins, positive feedback – a sense of a “job well done” at the end of the day, a sense of “earning one’s money for the day”.
Remote learning doesn’t do that. There’s nothing comparable. You get to the end, the students roll out of the chat room, and… that’s it. No endorphins. No boost of energy, or sense of job well done.
I think it’s important to recognise that in myself – and even in my team. As a middle leader, I can help my team celebrate and separate their time & achievements. Senior Leaders – do that for your HoDs and your teams, too! It’s hard to be a middle leader right now – perhaps this is where the push comes strongest – so support, help and praise wherever you can?